Tibet’s next move
Published: November 18 2008 22:43 | Last updated: November 18 2008 22:43
The Dalai Lama’s campaign for Tibet to be granted “genuine autonomy” within China has reached a turning point. For the past six years, representatives of Tibet’s spiritual leader have been engaged in talks with the Chinese government, hoping Beijing will recognise the Tibetans’ distinct culture, language and identity within the People’s Republic. But despite hopes this year that China might relax its stance, those talks have broken down.
China refuses to enter into any discussion about Tibet’s status within the PRC, accusing the Dalai Lama of covertly seeking full-blown separation. The Dalai Lama has, in turn, expressed disappointment with this hardline stance, warning that Beijing’s wish to strike an accord is “thinning, thinning, thinning”. As a result, hundreds of Tibetans from communities around the world have this week gathered for an unprecedented meeting in the Indian hill town of Dharamsala. They are discussing what course the Tibetan movement should take next.
The Dharamsala meeting deserves attention. For decades, the Dalai Lama has been a renowned voice of moderation. But as he admitted in an FT interview last May, the failure of his moderate stance to yield results is alienating younger Tibetans. A recent opinion survey reveals that a sizeable number of Tibetans want full-blown independence – and many of them want the Dalai Lama’s peaceful “middle way” abandoned. They argue that next March, when Tibet marks the 50th anniversary of the Dalai Lama’s flight into exile, there must be another demonstration of resistance to the Chinese authorities.
The hope must be that the Dalai Lama’s insistence on moderation is reasserted this week, and that the Tibetan resistance movement does not shift to aggressive militancy. But if that is to be realised, China must reconsider the ruthlessness with which it treats calls for Tibetan autonomy. The Chinese government regards the Nobel laureate as a charismatic figure with whom it is difficult to do business. But a successful negotiation with him is the only way to ensure a peaceful outcome to this stand-off. Beijing seems to believe that if the Dalai Lama disappears, the problem of Tibet will disappear with him. That is a serious miscalculation.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008